When you know your grandparent is terminally ill, contact them and tell them that you love them and hope to spend some time with them. Take some time off of work and let your partner know you need this time with family, and if need be make travel arrangements, no matter what your grandparent says.
Your grandparent may be in a place emotionally where they feel like they may wish to avoid burdening you, but we all know that showing up means more than anything. We show up for our loved ones births, weddings, and holidays, why not for the end of life?
If your grandparent needs reassurance, tell them that you really want to be there with them right then. "I just want to be with you."
Before you arrive at your grandparent's bedside, it can be a heavy emotional moment. Allow yourself the time to take a few breaths and imagine your happy times with your grandparent so that when you approach them, you will be prepared to greet them normally.
Ideally this should include at least a hug. If they are lying in a bed, chances are no one has hugged them for some time. Hugs and love are a very good idea.
Here is how to hug a hospice patient:
Without placing any weight on your beloved, slide one arm beneath their neck, and wrap the other around their upper body. Lean in and give only enough pressure to make as much body contact as possible. Give a cheek kiss if it is your family custom, and take a breath before pulling away.
This is also a good time to tell them how glad you are to be there, "Grama, I am so glad to be here with you now, I love you so much!" This is the way you should say hello and goodbye to your grandparent every day that you are able to visit them, with loving touch and loving words. You don't need to get too loquacious if it isn't your style, after all, you and your grandparent know that this experience is bitter sweet. You get to be with each other, but no one needs to be pressured to speak or not to speak.
During your innitial visit just holding hands, or applying some hand lotion is a nice way of spending a few minutes.
Reading aloud is also nice if you both want to spend time, just try for a book that is funny and tells short stories, anything by David Sadaris is good for more liberal Grandparents, you'll know what makes sense for your family.
If you have some extended time in the town your grandparent is experiencing the end of their life you can help them feel more at home if they are in hospice or in the hospital by bringing them some familiar things from home. Anything you bring from their home is going to be welcome. Fresh pillow cases, sheets and night clothes are a must. If they have a favorite throw blanket or afghan, some cozy socks and slippers, even a pillow or two from around their home can be a comfort. For example, at her request, I brought my Grandma her kitty cat for one last visit. Grandma held kitty' s paw while kitty hid in her kennel for an hour, it was what they both needed to do.
Bring music, their own CDs or tapes, you will know.
Put yourself in their shoes, would you like to look at the cheesey artwork that is already on the wall, or would you like to have some paintings or pictures from home? Bring them with you and just put it on the wall. Do it! My Grama's hospice room had a huge and loudly ticking click on the wall at the foot of her bed. What a thing to have to look at for the last two weeks of one's life. So we took it down and put up a painting, and changed it out for another painting each day. Toward the end of Grama's stay in hospice, we put up a bulletin board covered with cards from her friends, family, and former students. The last thing she saw was a wall of love and a picture window of a beautiful view of a Canadian lake. Also known as, life worth living until the very last minute. I highly reccomend this sort of thing.
Bring their photo albums and then ask if they would like to look at old photo albums with you. Grama taught us a lot about our family in her las week looking at photo albums with us. She enjoyed it very clearly, too.
Ask if they would like you to bring anything from home, like letters or portfolios of work or scrap books or diaries. My Grama was very pleased when I asked her if there was anything personal that she wanted to have hidden, or given, or collected by a friend rather than collected by family. When we are dying we are vulnerable, and it is a comfort to know that our personal things can be kept personal. Some things are more for sharing with friends than with family, even when we are 85 or 100 years old. As family of elderly people, the things they share with us are our privalidge, not our right.